Schools fear Measure 28 failure

Advocate says cuts could hurt the disabled

PARKDALE — Moderator Bob Danko put Measure 28 in perspective at the start of last week’s forum on the income tax proposal.

“Some would argue it’s not too much money for the benefits we get, while others argue that it’s an income tax increase,” Danko said.

From there, a panel from Hood River County Schools and Columbia Gorge Center provided extensive arguments supporting Measure 28, which is on the Jan. 28 Special Election. About 20 people attended the forum, sponsored by Parkdale Parent Teacher Association.

At least one local group home for developmentally disabled adults is scheduled to close Feb. 1 if Measure 28 does not pass, said Lennie Mueller, a board member for the non-profit Columbia Gorge Center, which provides work opportunities and other support services for people with disabilities. State funding currently provides work and home settings for disabled adults, and that amounts to “a dignity they never had before,” Mueller said. Without a place to work and live, some residents without family members would have nowhere else to go, according to Mueller.

“We feel it is a matter of life and death,” she said.

Rick Eggers said the situation in the schools will not be so dire.

“There are exciting things going on, a lot of positives in the schools,” said Eggers, interim superintendent for Hood River County School District. Even with Measure 28 failing, “they will continue — there just may not be as many of them,” Eggers said.

The District has already cut $1.25 million from its current budget, resulting in nine job cuts. Another $852,000 would have to be axed if Measure 28 fails. The administration will present a reduction plan in the Jan. 22 school board meeting, Eggers said.

“We will try to do this without eliminating people,” Eggers said. “Losing people is a big change. How can you change your school halfway through the year?”

He said that by mid-January the district is usually well into preparing for the next school year’s budget, but this year he and his staff are still trying to figure out how to make it through 2002-03.

“By law, we have to have a balanced budget for 2003-04. I don’t yet know how we’ll balance it, but we will,” Eggers said.

One budget victim in the mid-valley area would be Wy’east Middle School’s after-school programs, which give 100 of the school’s 400 students an extra hour of supervision and study time while many of their parents are at work. But staffing cuts could do away with the program, said principal Ed Drew, who also spoke at the Jan. 9 forum. He said, “My worry is the 2003-04 budget year and what the legislature does to us,” Drew said.

Pat Echanis, Parkdale Elementary principal, said he would look first at a 25 percent supplies cut, and doing away with tuition reimbursement for teachers’ staff development.

“Even if Measure 28 passes, it’s not going to be pleasant for our budgeting needs,” Echanis said.

Martha Capovilla of Hood River Valley High School said she is concerned about the future of career education at the school. Work-to-school programs are an increasingly important element for high schoolers’ education, said Capovilla, co-principal at HRVHS.

“Our kids truly are our stepping stone to the future. We feel like we have a pretty hefty responsibility,” said Capovilla, who appeared with fellow co-principal Steve Fisk.

Eggers admitted that he had little hope for Measure 28 when the Legislature voted to pass the question on to voters.

“But now I think people are starting to consider the effects (of budget cuts) a little more than they used to,” Eggers said. “We are all benefited by the educational level of all our citizens,” he said.

Danko noted that the challenge for garnering support for the schools lies in reaching out to community members who do not have children in the school system.

“One way would be to have them swing by Down Manor or Dethman Manor where some of our students are actively involved in helping the folks who live there,” Fisk said, referring to school-to-work programs and community service activities by HRVHS students.

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